The Bulls do not have “more than enough” to win.
They just don’t. Not right now.
Not without Derrick Rose, whose status remains as murky as ever.
Not without Kirk Hinrich (swollen right foot), Rip Hamilton (bask spasms) and Taj Gibson (sprained left knee).
Not with Joakim Noah limited by plantar faciitis. Not with Luol Deng seemingly suffering the effects of heavy minutes and torn wrist ligaments that may never have healed properly.
Chicago’s defense played okay during the first half in limiting the Lakers to 20-for-47 shooting. But the Lakers erupted for 29 points on 11-for-20 shooting in the third quarter to put the Bulls on their heels. After falling behind by as many as 18, the Bulls made a push…but the Lakers pushed right back. In latter half of the fourth quarter, they attacked Carlos Boozer on offense, especially off pick-and-rolls, and got pretty much any shot they wanted.
And even after Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was finally forced to yank Boozer, Kobe Bryant still managed to drive right to the rim. Kobe missed the shot but grabbed his own offensive rebound, and after running some more time off the clock, ended up with another layup.
By that point, you could tell the Bulls just didn’t have it. Even when they were able to get shots, they couldn’t score. Chicago shot 6-for-18 in the first quarter, 11-for-24 in the second, 7-for-24 in the third and 9-for-23 in the fourth. Overall, they shot 37.1 percent and misfired on 12 of their 16 three-point attempts. They earned only 12 free throw attempts and managed only 4 fast break points against a Lakers squad that isn’t exactly known for foot speed.
Joakim Noah had a monster statistical game (18 points, 7-for-12, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks) but couldn’t contain Dwight Howard (21 total rebounds, 7 offensive rebounds, 16 points, 4 blocked shots). Nate Robinson played reasonably well (19 points, 8 assists, 4 steals), but he took a lot of shots (19), missed a lot of threes (2-for-8) and couldn’t keep a hand in the face of Steve Nash (16 points on 6-for-9 shooting).
As is often the case, the Bulls tried to make up for their offensive ineptitude by crashing the glass, and they ended up with 18 offensive rebounds and 23 second-chance points. Unfortunately, the Lakers had 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points of their own.
In fact, when you factor in the fact that they shot better (and thus had fewer missed shots to rebound), the Lakers finished with a titanic Offensive Rebound Rate of 40.4 percent.
So Chicago’s initial defense was often fantastic…but they couldn’t finish the job. Which actually has been a recurring theme this season. The Bulls are a great offensive rebounding team, ranking third in the league in Offensive Rebounding Rate. On the flip side, they’re a terrible defensive rebounding team, currently 24th in Defensive Rebounding Rate behind teams like Phoenix, Detroit and Toronto.
But while there certainly has been some slippage defensively and on the boards, the Bulls look utterly out of gas on offense. Everything is a struggle. Nothing comes easy. Boozer, Deng, Robinson and Marco Belinelli combined to shoot 22-for-66 from the field and 3-for-13 from downtown. The bench — which as been vastly reduced due to all the injuries — managed only 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting between Jimmy Butler (24 minutes, 5 points, 2-for-8), Nazr Mohammed (9 minutes, 5 points, zero rebounds) and Marquis Teague (3 minutes, 1 turnovers, zero for everything else).
The Bulls sorely missed Gibson defensively and on the boards. And they missed having Hinrich to initiate the offense. According to ESPN Stats and Information:
In the four games since Kirk Hinrich’s injury, the Bulls have shot 38.4 percent from the floor. Luol Deng has felt the extra attention from opposing defenses, averaging 0.84 points per possession in the last four games compared to 0.90 in Chicago’s first 59 games. For context, Deng’s average over the last four games would rank him 279th on the season, tied with Josh Smith and Pablo Prigoni. Chicago is 1-3 over that span.
You can’t draw blood from a stone, but that’s why the shorthanded Bulls have been trying to do on offense lately. But don’t tell Noah that.
Said Noah: ”Nobody care. It’s no time for excuses. We still got to go out there and play the game, play the game the right way. And I think a lot of it is mental with us. We just get frustrated very easily right now and I think that if we stick together through these hard times I think it’s going to make our team that much better.”
The frustration is understandable. Noah and Deng are playing through pain and discomfort. Several other guys aren’t playing at all. The Rose situation is becoming a bit of a circus. And with all the injuries and distractions, the Bulls aren’t close to reaching their ceiling.
Countered Robinson: ”We’re just not making no shots that’s all. Simple as that. We just got to make our shots, we’ll be OK. We’re in every game, we play hard, we’re just not making our shots. We’ll be all right. We’ll start making them.”
I really wish it was that simple, but I outlined the team’s problems last week. The Bulls don’t take or make many threes, so they can’t space the floor. This leads to defensive crowding in the paint and a low conversion percentage on their shots at the rim. Their offense generates an awful lot of long two-pointers, and they don’t knock down very many of them. They also don’t get to the line very often and they have a high turnover rate. Add in that they don’t have a go-to guy on offense and…well…there’s basically nothing these team does well on offense other than rebound some of their many missed shots.
Said Thibodeau: ”Offensively, we have to keep the ball moving. When we hold on to it and settle for the long two, that’s a tough shot.”
It’s a great thought, but it’s hard to keep the ball moving when Robinson plays the point for 43 minutes and 24 seconds, as he did last night. Look, I absolutely love Nate’s energy and effort, and I think he’s great when playing his optimal role, which is energy guy/explosive scorer off the bench. But as a point guard, he dribbles too much and holds onto the ball too long in general. Basketball is a game of split seconds. And Robinson tends to deliver the ball several split seconds too late. Which gums up an already flawed offensive system.
According to NBA.com, the Bulls rank 29th in points per game (87.6) over their last 10 games, barely ahead of the dreadful Charlotte Bobcats (87.2). They’re 28th in field goal percentage (40.9), with only Minnesota (40.6) and Charlotte (39.9). The Bulls are also in the red in terms of rebounding differential over the last 10 games.
The Bulls need answers. And right now, that’s only going to happen when players start getting healthy and returning to the lineup.